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  • Writer's pictureRicki King

Des Moines is getting old. Death comes to a pioneer of Des Moines.

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

“George Sneer, one of the three oldest settlers in Des Moines, drops dead. (25 August 1891)

Stricken with heart disease at the Elliot Farm while entertaining visiting relatives.

A resident of Des Moines forty-five years-something of his long and useful life.

Des Moines is getting old.

Des Moines is getting ‘along in years,’ and the oldest members of the little frontier settlement that was formed so readily in this rich country, almost upon the very tracks of the Indians, are being called to their long rest. The ties of friendship were so close in those days when the people depended so much on each other, and every one in the county knew every other, and every person in it, that it seems now like a big family. Many of the best of the old settlers of Des Moines and Polk county have remained in the city to enjoy the rewards of their early privations and struggles. Some of them are in active business in the city. The associations of the pioneer days are as binding as ever upon the hearts of these patriots and when the death of one of them is announced it comes as a personal, almost as a family bereavement to those remaining. Such was certainly the feeling yesterday, when the sudden death of George Sneer was announced.

… The death of George Sneer removes one of the landmarks, it may be said from Des Moines. He was one of the three oldest living settlers in Polk county Dr. James Campbell and Judge P. M. Cassady, who married Mr. Sneer’s half-sister, are the others. He was very much interested in the preservation of the early history of the county. He had an excellent memory and was frequently referred to as an authority on events that happened many years ago. In his forty-five years’ residence in Des Moines the deceased has made a good record as a citizen, public spirited and honorable in his dealings, and universally respected and esteemed.”


“George Sneer was born in Funkstown, Washington county, Maryland, May 3, 1835. His parents were both natives of Germany and were married in 1834. His father died in February, 1835, so that George was the only child. Mrs. Sneer was married in 1837, to Dr. Francis C. Grimmel, a German physician, a widower with three children. In 1839 they moved to Ohio, and after seven years residence in that state, moved to Iowa. They were among the very earliest to settle so far west. There were no railways; they traveled in “prairie schooners” over the whole route, if such it might be called. For miles and [m]iles not a human soul or habitation was to be seen. They reached the Raccoon Forks on the night of October 15, 1846. This was only a few months after the soldiers had been withdrawn from Fort Des Moines and the Indians moved away to their reservation farther west.

When Dr. Grimmel and his four covered wagons reached the old fort he found to his surprise that there were no houses of any kind to be procured for the winter and so the only thing for them to do was to spend the winter in the guard house which stood at the crossing of Third and Vine streets. A temporary house was secured the next spring and put up about the corner of Sixth and Grand avenue. Next year, after much effort, the old historic house was built at that place, the one which was destroyed by fire October 6, 1889. Here the family lived for many years, cultivating a farm of which the south line was Grand avenue, while Dr. Grimmel practiced his profession.

The little frontier village did not afford the educational advantages that the most remote form in Iowa has now, and it was several years before the young man had an opportunity o[f] going to school. Among his early tutors were Judge J. P. Casady, now of Council Bluffs; Rev. J. A. Nash, now deceased; Mr. Anderson of Madison county and Judge Byron Rice.

Mr. Sneer was married on Nov. 23, 1856, to Miss Paulina E. Reinig, daughter of John M. Reinig and a native of Baden, Germany, born Sept. 5, 1835. Mrs. Sneer died July 28, 1890. Two children were born to them-George S. was married to Miss Jessie B. Snavely, daughter of W. A. Snavely, and is engaged in the hardware business at Morengo, Iowa; Minnie is the wife of Phillip S. Holland, with whom Mr. Sneer lived at the southwest corner of Eighth and Crocker streets at the time of his death.

Mr. Sneer was engaged in farming for a few years, but since 1860 has lived in the city, where he has always been prominent in public affairs. In ’61 and ’62 he was a member of the city council, city clerk in ’69, street commissioner ’71 and ’72, alderman in ’75, mayor from ’77 to ’80. He had reached the highest rank as a Mason, being a member of Capital Lodge, Corinthian Chapter and Temple Commandery. He was also a member of Ft. Des Moines Lodge and Ebenezer Encampment, I. O. O. F., and in all these lodges all the honors had been bestowed upon him.”

Dr. James Campbell died in Des Moines on 8 October 1898 and Judge Phineas McCray Casady died on 31 August 1908.

George Sneer, "Death of A Pioneer," The [Des Moines] Iowa State Register 26 August 1891; digital image, ( : accessed 29 September 2019), p. 7, col. 3.

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